Something good did come out of January for the Penguins, who played most of the month without center Sidney Crosby (concussion) and the final weeks of it without center Evgeni Malkin (sinus infection).

That "something" is center Jordan Staal, who made his season debut in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day and has assumed No. 1 center duties for the past few weeks.

Admittedly, Staal said his game "is not quite there yet," adding that his conditioning "is pretty darn close."

The injuries to Crosby and Malkin were a blessing for Staal, who had spent only a couple of weeks practicing with teammates from mid-May to the day after Christmas. Three surgeries -- two to correct an infected foot, one to repair a broken hand -- forced Staal to recover and rehabilitate at the expense of training.

There was reason to believe his months before the Stanley Cup playoffs would be spent playing into form, but that luxury was absent with Crosby and Malkin out.